by Lorraine Payette, written September 30, 2015
“The kind of bar where there’s only two types of music on the jukebox – one is country, the other is western…”
– McAllister, Dear Johnny Deere
Don’t make a mistake about it – this is definitely a musical, but there’s nothing light, fluffy or comedic going on here. A Juno Award winner, Dear Johnny Deere is serious drama, carefully crafted around the music of Fred Eaglesmith, a play that takes a hard look at love, the land and surviving the trials of running a small family farm in Canada.
Ken Cameron had wanted to write something around Eaglesmith’s work, and found himself up against a major challenge. He sat down and listened, then sorted and listened again before finally finding the thread he was looking for.<!–more– to read more>
“Because Ken researched Fred Eaglesmith’s songbook extensively, he was able to draw the characters and plotline from the many stories embedded within Fred’s songs,” said The Talent House in their summary and review. “The result is a musical where Fred’s hit songs seem tailor-made to the musical, not the other way around.”
The story is a tale of love and loss, of heartache and despair, the fear of losing a marriage and of losing the land that has been there ever since he can remember. It is a close look at the experience of so many farmers – the fear of losing the one you love to someone more exciting, rumours of government bringing a highway through to destroy the town, the temptation of someone with big money who could buy you out and give you a fresh start, crops dying in the field due to unpredictable weather, never, ever knowing whether you’ll wake up to a day of peace or one of turmoil. Tragedy and triumph, underscored with that constant, driving beat and the music that tells the tale so well.
With the music, you have to have musicians who are up to the task. Six have been brought together to make this story work, and make it work they do. From the four who play the principal characters as well as several musical instruments, to those who fill in the remainder of the sound so necessary to flesh it all out, they bring the story to life. The Playhouse has found these six in Greg Gale (Johnny), Shannon Currie (Caroline), Bruce Horak (Mike, Hendrick, the Collector), Jeff Culbert (McAllister), Capucine Onn (the fiddler) and music director David Archibald. Whether vocals or instrumentals, they work together as a team, bringing every song vibrantly to life and making you forget, every now and then, that this is a musical and not a glimpse into the hard but determined life of a small town Canadian farmer.
Going from “White Trash” to “I Wanna Buy Your Truck” to “Time to Get a Gun”, the music is strong and smart, a toe tapping, head jiving experience that keeps you humming along as you leave the theatre and return to your regular life. And maybe, just maybe, that regular life doesn’t seem so bad by comparison, or maybe it all feels just a little bit too familiar. Either way, you leave the theatre ready to go back once more to see and hear it all again.
Dear Johnny Deere runs from September 25 – October 18, 2014, at the Springer Theatre, 690 Charles Street South in Gananoque, Ontario. Running time for the play is 2 hours including intermission. Show times are Tuesday through Saturday 8:00 pm, with matinees on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 pm (starting the Wednesday after opening night). Deck chats are Wednesdays at 1:30 pm and Thursdays at 7:00. Tickets are $32 for adults, $30 for seniors age 65+, $16 for students, with a half price preview on July 24. HST is applicable to all ticket prices. Group tickets are available at $26 – $28 each. This show is recommended for people of all ages, but may not appeal to younger children. For more information, please go to http://www.1000islandsplayhouse.com or contact the box office at 613-382-7020.